The chill of fall is nearing. I want to make mulled cider for a Sunday afternoon get-together. Is there an optimum amount of time that I should let the cider and spices heat? And is there a benefit to stovetop vs crockpot?
When asked how long a speech should be, Abraham Lincoln replied it should be long enough to cover the subject, yet short enough to be interesting. In the case of mulling cider, I think it should be mulled long enough to develop and meld the flavors of the spices with the cider, yet short enough so that the spices don’t start to disintegrate and the cider doesn’t evaporate and over-concentrate.
You can make sure the spices don’t disintegrate by using whole ones. They also retain their oils better whole, and will be more flavorful than ground spices. I suggest avoiding mulling spice blends as you can adjust the whole spices to suit your taste rather than someone else’s. Which ones to use?
Cinnamon, of course. But mulled cider shouldn’t just taste like apple pie (unless that’s what you like), so include some others: cloves, cardamom, coriander, and/or ginger. Cinnamon, of course, is rolled bark from a tree; cloves, cardamom, and coriander are seeds. Dried ginger is a rhizome which is usually sold ground, but it is available in larger dried pieces. Penzey’s sells it minced or cracked, as well as crystallized, and any of those would keep well on hand. Fresh ginger, of course, would be great. If you like a little additional heat, some peppercorns wouldn’t be amiss.
Taste your cider. If you know what kind of apples were used, so much the better, as each variety has its own flavor and sweet/tart ratio. Is it a little too tart? Sweeten with sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup. Is it a little too sweet? Some lemon peel strips will balance that. Orange zest adds a different nuance.
Using whole spices means you don’t have to worry about how long your cider is on the heat. How long for the flavors to develop? I’d say 20-30 minutes, although I’ve seen recommendations anywhere from a few minutes to four hours! It partly depends on how a temperature you’re using. I don’t think you should boil the cider; just bring it up to a simmer and then turn it down to the lowest possible heat.
For that reason, because some stoves have burners that are hard to regulate at low temperatures, use a crockpot. You can set it on high to bring the cider up to temperature, and turn it to low as soon as it’s hot. Mulled cider shouldn’t simmer. More good reasons to use a crockpot are that you can place it anywhere there’s access to an outlet, and it frees up a burner if you have other things that need to go on the stovetop.